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Sunday, July 14, 2024 - 02:13 PM


First Published in 1994


The Social Media Squeeze

Congress Acts to Hold Social Media Accountable for Childrens Access

Many of us feel like we have information overload these days. With the 24-hour news cycle and the non-stop flow of content from the internet, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. We are constantly bombarded with posts that lead to negativity and comparison with others. If we, as adults, have a hard time filtering information from the internet and establishing boundaries with social media, imagine the extreme burden it imposes on children. Congress has been considering various ways to protect children from online dangers. This week the House is taking a good first step.

Studies have found that 95% of teenagers ages 13-17 and 40% of children ages 8-12 are using social media. Other studies on the harms of social media found that greater social media use resulted in high depressive rates, online harassment, poor body image, and poor sleep quality, especially among girls. Beginning at age 10, a child’s brain is only halfway developed toward maturity. This is the time they start to seek social rewards like compliments from peers. Whatever is used to feed this developmental need will likely impact future behavior. If children can access adult content or engage in potentially damaging private communications with peers and even strangers, their ability to mature in a healthy manner can be impaired.

In a bipartisan effort, Representatives Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced a bill that addresses some of the problems that confront us and our children online. The American Privacy Rights Act (H.R. 8818) protects the data of all individuals and shields children under age 13 from the dangers of the internet. The bill limits data collection and creates a private right of action for individuals to sue entities that have misused their data. Our privacy rights should not vanish as soon as we log on to our computers. 

To protect children, H.R. 8818 contains language from the Kids Online Safety Act “KOSA” (H.R. 7891) and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act “COPPA” (H.R. 7890). KOSA requires that social media platforms take reasonable measures to prevent the abuse of children through marketing of inappropriate behaviors such as smoking or drinking alcohol, and addictive behavior-inducing content. It also forces these websites to give parents access to their children’s accounts and data use. Similarly, COPPA amends current law to ensure children’s data is not sold while expanding the definition of “children” to 16 years old and requiring companies to erase data from this age group.

In a previous subcommittee markup of H.R. 8188, Rep. McMorris-Rodgers stated:

The American Privacy Rights Act is an opportunity for a reset, one that can help return us to the American Dream our Founders envisioned. It gives people the right to control their personal information online, something the American people overwhelmingly want. They’re tired of having their personal information abused for profit.  

The legislation has garnered support from Members, organizations, and companies from both sides of the aisle. The Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Director Kara Frederick stated:

The unrestricted collection and exploitation of personal data by major tech platforms such as Google and Meta is at the root of nearly every challenge we face as conservatives. This pervasive surveillance — enabled by the extensive data harvesting capabilities of Big Tech — has given rise to a host of threats that undermine our fundamental rights and values. It’s time to put Big Tech on notice and let them know that the gravy train, built on the backs of Americans and our children, is over.

On the left, David Brody, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said:

“[We] are encouraged by the new American Privacy Rights Act (APRA), a bipartisan and bicameral effort to safeguard data privacy and civil rights online. Passing comprehensive privacy legislation would be a major advancement for the public good.”

The great expansion of technology in our everyday lives has moved so rapidly that Congress has been unable to update our laws to address the real dangers that exist. H.R. 8188 is a great opportunity for change that could protect children from the some of the risks online. The bill, as well as the Kids Online Safety Act, will be marked up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week.